Large Families' Ways… How We Do It!
Written by Sibbi Yarger
To us, living in a large family is not very different than living in a family with three or four children. Once you have had 3 children, and have had to learn what to do when you have more children-than-you-have-hands, things are not so different. Honestly, I have never really felt that our life was different than any other family’s life.
By the 3rd child, one has personally experienced that EVERY child is different. We have 11 children that include 8 boys and 3 girls who currently range in age from 30 to 13 years old. They are all 18 months to 2 years apart in age, except for the twins who were the 8th and 9th children. The children have grouped into two groups, the “big kids” and the” little kids”. Our middle son, the 7th child, has Down’s syndrome and is deaf, with other mental challenges as a result of spinal meningitis at 15 weeks.
The “big-kids” are all the children older than this son, and the “little kids” are this son and the younger children. Our 4th son was killed 2 years ago, at 17, when he was struck by lightning.
The “little kids” are the 5 teenagers still at home. I think that because of the large number of children, no one gets special treatment. There are no favorite children. The rules and chores are the same for everyone. I care for the children, clean, do the laundry, go shopping, and cook just as any other mother does.
Things are still the same around here now that the kids are older, except that I feel like I am never home but in the car going somewhere someone else needs to go!
We were a career military family moving about every 5 years. We’ve been settled in our current home about 12 years now, while my husband works as a contractor for the air force. Our house is 2500 square feet, larger than some, but not huge. Life has been pretty much the same no matter what size building we called “home”.
I’d like to share with you some things that may be different for us, (little things) that I do, that others probably also do, but we do on a bigger scale.
The Lord has blessed us in little ways that go unnoticed. For example, our “things” seem to last longer. There are some things we choose not to have, that smaller families might expect. For instance, the children have worn clothes that older children have worn time and time again. We have never purchased a brand new vehicle. We have driven the same cars for 8-10 years. We don’t take vacations except to visit grandparents every other year or so.
Costs of a larger family? It is good to remember that in many ways the costs of a larger family are not any different for smaller families. It costs as much to heat a house for 8 as it does for 4 people. Our groceries are often less than smaller families because we don’t buy as much “prepared” food at the grocery store as a smaller family might.
Usually life goes along for us as it does any family. I have always been grateful that when an issue does arise, it arises for one child at a time. We have never had a crisis time with all the children at once. (We did have one Sunday brunch experience when we had much more than the “normal” share of “accidents” for one meal!) From the time my oldest son was 4 years old, the children helped with each other and have had household chores. They each had a “buddy” and were responsible to help this younger sibling dress, get in and out of the car, take care of little things that came up, and keep an eye on where they were and what they were doing.
I was the mother of the babies but everyone entertained them and pitched in when I needed more than two hands to get the job done. Chores included helping before and after meals, cleaning their rooms, sorting and putting away laundry, collecting and taking out trash, and each child had a “weekly” room that they picked up, and vacuumed daily.
I usually have a specific area or room that was designated the “play room”, different than the living room or a bedroom. This was where all the toys are kept. Everyone played with, and had a place to put the toys away. We used plastic dishpans for certain categories of toys and each tub had a shelf or cubby hole it was kept in. We had a tub for cars, planes, little plastic animals, Fisher Price people, Legos (which became a very large tub), wooden blocks, etc. .
In addition, each child had their own “box”, a storage box where they kept their “treasures” and no one was allowed in that box but them.
All other toys and activities were for all the family to use and participate in. We have bookcases full of books all over the house. We don’t read as much as I dreamed we would, so I am hoping some of the wonderful literature and information gets into us through osmosis.
Our play room became the family room as the family got older and the family room is where the computers, TV and stereo are kept. We have two TVs, one in the family room and one in the guest room. They are not plasma TVs or HD TVs, There are no TVs, phones or computers in the bedrooms. Everyone can see the TV and computers at any time of the day as they are centrally located in the part of the house where most of the living occurs.
We had a video game system for a short while when our oldest son brought one home from college and again when our 4th son bought his own at about 16. His went to an older brother’s apartment later.
We have a game closet where all the games and puzzles are kept, and we keep the tables and flat surfaces cleared off. Rooms are picked up and swept daily, which keep clutter down.
We also have designated places for things. This gives us a place to put things away. Keeping things “picked” up is very important. It keeps the home more orderly and open for hospitable moments when someone drops in or children want to bring friends home.
Our home is not plushly furnished. We have lots of the stuff for life, play, and school. I have passed on baby and small child clothes, toys, etc. but we still have many ages, stages, interests, abilities, and passions around here. We have acquired most of our furniture by building it, buying it from thrift stores, or receiving it from friends, and family members as they bought new things. The only furniture we have purchased brand new, were a dining room set, double-sized waterbed with drawers which uses a regular mattress and box springs, and an entertainment center acquired before we had children.
Another thing about rooms that I will mention here. No one had their own bedroom. In fact, when the children were little, I tried to keep them all in the same room as often as possible. The little ones were with older ones and part of the “before-sleep” chatter, and the “early-morning-waking-up chatter”. They were all going to bed about the same time in those days and were not allowed to get up until a reasonable time that I set. This built in a time when they interacted with each other. The little ones learned from the older ones, and had normal going to bed, and getting up behavior modeled very naturally about them. They heard normal language all day long and were part of or at least exposed to, lots of stories and ponderings.
All along, most of the children came to us to learn more of spiritual things during that “going to sleep” time, after they had all been talking.
We are strong believers in bunk beds and every bedroom had at least one bunk bed. When the children were younger, there were often three or four children in a room together. Each bed had one pillow, a bottom sheet and then each child has their own warm blanket's). As they got older we sometimes used top sheets, but for a long time they preferred just a washable indoor weight sleeping bag or light comforter which kept the household laundry manageable. It also made making their beds easier. They could either spread everything out nicely or fold up the blanket at the bottom of the bed.
Laundry and Clothing
I like to store washcloths folded together with the towels, and the top, bottom sheets and pillow cases all folded together so that when one grabs one item, they have all they need at once. In the years we were not using a full set of sheets, I just kept the sheets in one pile and the pillow cases in another pile. But the linen closet was neat and everything in its pile.
Since we had a separate area for play and toys, the only things that were kept in the bedroom were the beds, the children’s clothes and their individual boxes of “treasures” that fit under the bed. The bedroom was a place to sleep and dress. All play took place in the play area where I could supervise, and be aware of behavior and activity. Along with dressers and closets, we also have used the area under the beds for clothes storage as the children got older and their clothes got bigger. They have not always had “their own” dresser, but sometimes had their own individual drawers, or storage boxes or plastic tubs under the bed or in the closet for clothes. We did not have lots of clothes for each child, but each had several different choices for outfits each day. They all had one “church” outfit when they were young, with a couple different shirts or blouses. The girls did like dresses and I did buy things that went together into outfits so that choosing what to wear was pretty easy. They had one pair of play shoes and one pair of church shoes and as they got older and participated in sports a pair of cleats.
We did not have separate wardrobes for winter and summer since we were in California for a period of time where the weather was mostly warm and summery, and Colorado where the weather is cool even in the summer. When we went out of the house to something planned or on errands I was pretty careful to make sure all the children looked nice and comfortable. People did watch us out all together and I wanted them to look nice. We did take advantage of thrift stores for everyday play clothes and day to day items and we did pass things down to younger children as older children grew out of them. Name brands or specialty brands were never an issue for us.
In the laundry room there is a “clean clothes” laundry basket for each bedroom and one basket for clean household laundry. I usually wash, dry, and fold the clothes and put everyone’s clothes in their basket as I fold each item. Each person puts away their own clothes. One of the children’s chores was laundry. That person took the baskets to the rooms and picked up and sorted the dirty laundry. I put away the household basket, which was usually the household linens.
Now-a-days, I try to do at least two loads of laundry a day. That way dirty clothes don’t pile up. I always fold clothes as I take them out of the dryer so that I don’t get baskets of clean, wrinkly, unfolded laundry sitting around the house. I have learned to dry the light weight laundry separate from the more heavy weight items which speeds the drying process some and doesn’t wrinkle the permanent press items as much.
I keep a dirty clothes basket in each bedroom. It works out that one basket is about a washer load, so when laundry is gathered I have one or two loads easily. With the baskets in the bedrooms (in the closet or an out of the way corner), the dirty laundry does not gather in large piles elsewhere in the house. I can quickly glance at the basket, see how full it is and know when laundry needs to be done.
I had my husband put the dryer up on a wooden box he built for it, so that the dryer opens up arm level, making it so much easier to unload.
Meals around our House
Meals have never been much of an issue. I learned quickly that I just needed to cook in triple batches to get enough for us all with leftovers. I still cook that much because with five teenagers, they are still eating that much food. I do buy fresh produce at the farmer’s market in the summer and will can or freeze summer produce to use later in the year. I watch the paper and buy the specials and marked down items in the grocery store. I am not a gourmet cook, but know how to use cookbooks and of course, our family has its favorites!
Dessert was not served at every meal, but if we did have one, it often was eaten after the evening meal. As the children got older milk was served only at breakfast with cereal. We drank juice some.. and more soda than I was allowed growing up! But mostly water at meals.
Meal Time at Our House
As the children have gotten older and participate in sports, our evening meal has also gotten later. We may not eat the main meal until after 8:00 PM. We do eat the evening meal together as a family and the breakfast and lunch meals are eaten by all who are home at the same time. Children do not “graze” but we have meals and occasional snacks at the “normal” times.
For years we used two 7 foot “conference” type tables we got at a warehouse club as a dining table. We put Formica on the tabletops so they were very easy to keep clean. I did use tablecloths often to help with keeping a clean and inviting table. I would often use queen size flat sheets from the thrift store for the tablecloths since they were large enough to fit the tables. The other sizes I had to alter in some way.
For many years we used metal folding chairs at the table because they take up very little space and are easy to keep clean. Now we use a combination of wooden chairs and benches. The babies and toddlers sat in high chairs at the table with the rest of us so they were always part of the meal, eating what we all ate and seeing good table manners modeled naturally.
We still use those long tables when we have a large group of people in, but recently we’ve been using the nice dining table that goes with the dining room set, since we only have 7 at the table now, not 13! When I put a tablecloth on the table I still put the glass on top. The tablecloth stays cleaner longer and the clean-up is still easy.
We do pay attention to table manners and polite behavior at the table. We also ate out so that from the earliest ages the children leaned proper public eating behavior. All of the children have been good eaters, not particular about foods. I believe that is because from their earliest days they were with the rest of the family who ate what was prepared and ate it heartily.
Discipline in a large family is more a group affair than I like. The consequences come very naturally. My husband and I make it clear what we expect. When a child does not do what they know to do, or becomes disrespectful or takes on a poor attitude, there are consequences.
We have used many different consequences; a wooden spoon on a diapered bottom, (more noise than sting), a “talking-to”, a short time-out period, or the loss of a privilege or belonging for a set amount of time. Each incident needing discipline, is followed by a teaching time. If there is an altercation between children, we settle the issue and then follow up with the most important part… resolution between children. Each child involved makes a confession to each other, asks for forgiveness and gives forgiveness to each other. Without the forgiveness step, things are not resolved. Bitter or angry feelings remain causing more trouble very quickly.
All the children have seen each other go through things. They learn without having to experience everything themselves. There was always a brother or sister around to do something with...and to see get into trouble! All the children were very normal and tried all the boundaries and jockeyed for better position.
We have found that if the level of consequence and the expected behavior remain consistent, they will do what’s expected earlier. They also learn to watch out for and support each other.
A special part of being a part of a large family, is that it allows children to grow up comfortable with all age levels. They are able to take care of the youngest child in the room and yet easily converse with adults.
Sitting Still in Church
They all learned very early there were times they had to sit quietly and wait. Except for that short time between 9-24 months when they are just too young to be quiet and still for extended periods, we took them with us to church services, not sending them out to the children’s programs during the main service. They did participate in the Sunday School, but not during the main worship service. We did this for several reasons. Training our children how to behave in a large group was important, so the others around them were not bothered. This allowed them to participate in worship and hear from an early age, the Scriptures read, explained, and applied to life. They saw adults paying attention, taking notes, learning from an authority. They heard and participated in prayer. Prayer was a natural option for them as they grew older and sought help from the One who could help them.
Mom At Home
One of the most important things for me, is that I have been able to be home with the children. I have not worked outside the home since the children were born. It is important for me as the mother to be there, direct the activity, and oversee our family life. I have learned to be patient and flexible and have been able to experience and help each child be their own person, not clones of another child, another adult, or myself.
Schooling At Home
No one loves or knows my children better than our own family. We talk about any subject and work at giving each child the room to express themselves and follow their interests and passions. I have tried to give the children many opportunities to explore their interests within our financial means and time availability.
My younger children have had much more opportunity than my older children to try different things. In the early years of home schooling, the opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities was so much more limited than it is today.
My younger group have been able to participate in high school level sports. We allow only one sport per season and all the children have played soccer in the fall. That is probably the primary sport in the family. I did try to pair up the children on the same team as often as I could.
Without babies to care for, I am more able to transport to music and art classes, with our younger group. I have and still am homeschooling. I am not the best at that, but I do know and allow each child to develop at their own pace and keep them on track. We have patterns to our days and I try to keep a routine, but with so many different people at so many different stages we do have to flex a bit with the routine.
My best advice to someone considering a large family
Be flexible. Look for ways to take care of the everyday stuff in the simplest, most efficient way. (Know that you will probably have to change what you “have always done”!) Think outside the box. There is often a better way to accomplish something. Usually life itself takes us outside the box and the changes come pretty naturally.
Use your common sense and do what is best for you and the family. Your life will not be like your friends’ lives or your neighbors’ lives. Take advantage of your differences. My job as a parent is to care for, love, and prepare my children to be caring, considerate, kind, and “smart” adults, not swayed by every wind of doctrine or fad that comes along. We want them to be able to think through things and make wise decisions for themselves and their own families.
I am amazed at how different life is now compared to 5 and 10 years ago in our very own family. Things I did then, I do not do now.
I think I am a better parent now... much more comfortable in my own skin than in the past. We are all still learning and growing. That will never change.
The only thing that never changes, is the fact that everything always changes! Be able to “roll with the punches”. Deal with things as they occur in the best way you can. You may be able to figure it out, you may need the counsel of a friend or professional for particular things that come up. Don’t be afraid to make happen what you think is best and always be ready to seek help if you need it.
I have learned so much from other people (especially my own children.) For our family, our faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives has made all the difference. I am never alone in dealing with the things that come up in our family. I know that the Lord has a plan and He has our best in mind. He can make everything good, no matter how bad I “blow it”.
But I do desire more than anything to be the parent He wants me to be, to care for His children as He would care for them, and to know that He is able to accomplish all that He plans through and for each member of our family.